Mozart & The Whale
Sony Pictures // PG-13 // $24.96 // December 12, 2006
Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted December 11, 2006
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It's hard enough to find that special person in life without coping with a mental or emotional disorder. Imagine not looking for love at all, attempting to cope with a disorder that hinders your social abilities, and having love dropped at your feet. Essentially, that's the setup for Mozart and the Whale, the low-key inspirational drama directed by Petter Næss. Since the film was written by Ronald Bass, crafter of such emotion-tapping screenplays as What Dreams May Come, Stepmom, and Rain Man, a touching film that tugs on the heart is to be expected. As with those previous flicks and under this great direction, Mozart and the Whale succeeds as a mild, romantically fused comedic drama that possesses fantastically portrayed characters and a compellingly honest storyline.

The Film:

Donald Morton (Josh Hartnett), a cab-driver who maintains a support group for disorder-laden individuals, has what is called Asperger's Syndrome. This syndrome, related to autistic disorders, affects the ways in which an individual interacts and communicates with society and other individuals. However, unlike some other disorders, Asperger's syndrome does not alter the person's way of speaking. Donald maintains a relatively normal life – with the exception of losing his job on a relatively frequent basis and having strong difficulties communicating on the same levels as the people in which he comes in contact. Sarcasm, literal statements, and overall difficulty staying focused on conversations and activities consistently remain everyday problems. His minimal redeeming activities in the day seem to include spending time with his birds at home and managing his group of friends at the support group. One day, after he arrives at his group proceeding a difficult time at his job, Donald peers on the recent sign-up list for the group and notices a new name: Isabelle (Radha Mitchell).

Isabelle, who also has Asperger's syndrome, joins the group a few days later to a less-than-humble reaction. Since the disorder affects different people in different ways, it causes her to have even greater difficulties interacting with new people. Though he has difficulties coming to grips with it, Donald starts to form a link with Isabelle that primarily stems from their shared disorder. However, once each of them goes home after connecting harmoniously each day, their social awareness problems come into play. Difficulties arise for the two, such as who calls whom, what to do if one of them is late, and how to cope with non-literal comments. Humorous yet heartbreaking at the same time, the two fumble between each other, all the while during this process discovering their similarities – and how their mutual understanding can help them cope.

Here's where this reviewer was extremely impressed: both Josh Hartnett and Radha Mitchell are engaging, funny, and pretty convincing. They parry off of each other very well and carry the performances with legitimate charisma throughout the full feature. Mitchell's strong, eccentric performance often overpowers Hartnett's intentionally timid, confused persona; however, with the way the characters are set up, this dynamic feels deliberate and works effectively to their benefit.

Mozart and The Whale is a fantastic story about accepting fault in the love in one's life. While, at times, the pieces fit together a bit easy here and there, the flow of events still works well as an illustration of a relationship beginning to interweave. As a comedy, the film has a fair share of chuckles from both of the leads. Donald's awkward attempts at normalcy and Isabelle's reaction to these attempts are humorous, yet at the same time heartwarming. There's a sense of sincerity and innocence in their connection that can be extremely charming. Even though the story doesn't have much middle ground with the pacing (either extremely sweet or extremely dramatic), Mozart and the Whale has the ability to win over a smile or two on many faces and pluck on their heart strings at the same time.

The DVD:

Sony has presented Mozart and the Whale in a standard keepcase DVD with attractive coverart and replicated disc art.

The Video:

Mozart and the Whale is presented in a very clean 1.85:1 anamorphic presentation. The transfer's colors were very rich and the cinematography was exceptionally pleasing. Mastered in high definition, the quality of the picture stands out really well amongst the interesting places Donald and Isabelle go, such as a zoo garden, a quaint, wine-shaded restaurant, and an abandoned house with nothing but a chandelier. Overall, the image was very pleasing and extremely colorful.

The Audio:

Presented in English and French Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, the film sounds fairly clean. While I thought the music could have packed a bit more punch, dialogue was very clean and legible. Since this is a dialogue driven film, there's not much to work with as far as surrounds go. However, what is presented served the purpose well. Subtitles are also available in English and French.

The Extras:

Sadly, the only extras included on this disc are a few previews for other Sony films and a commentary by writer Ronald Bass. Much more would have been very welcome.

Final Thoughts:

Mozart and the Whale is a charming, well-performed, and enjoyable comedic drama about two people's ability to cope together with a difficult disorder. Even though the film revolves around their activities and frustrations with Asperger's syndrome, it is essentially a heart-warming picture about two people who identify with each other when the world seems incapable to do so. Hartnett and Mitchell's performances display an extremely charming dose of humor and innocence that made this reviewer smile. Even though the pieces seem to fall together a little too effortlessly between the two leads as they grow to know each other, the path is still enjoyably engaging. Mozart and the Whale definitely comes Recommended as a well-acted piece that illustrates how everyone doesn't mold into the world perfectly – and how it isn't absolutely necessary to fit if the right person fits with you.

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